This was a good year for comics. There were a ton of great, intelligent, funny, enjoyable, and moving books this year. Some I knew were going to be good and some completely took me by surprise. I’m reading more books now than I ever have and I can’t wait to see what is coming next year.
However, let’s focus on the now: 2014. With so many good books this year, I’m expanding the list. This is my Top 20 Favorite Comics of 2014. Just a quick disclaimer: This is all personal opinion and what I think is good is probably different than what you think is good. So if some of your favorites aren’t on the list (Saga, East of West, and Wonder Woman for instance), no reason to get upset. Just enjoy the list and see if any of these books I mention sound appealing to you.
Justice League (DC Comics): Justice League isn’t the most groundbreaking of comics, but it does have a lot of great moments, whether they be action or character oriented. The story and plot threads it weaves are always interesting and when it does focus on character stuff, it’s solid. Plus it helps that it has a lot of good artwork to it most of the time. I just wish it spent more time on all of the characters and developing them as a group instead of just focusing on one or two.
Niseoki: False Love (Viz Media): If you have read or read a lot of romance and harem comedies like me, Niseoki isn’t one that really pushes the boundaries all that much. It’s full of clichéd antics and familiar character types you usually see from these types of stories. However, what gives this manga the edge over most is that this one is a lot of fun, and extremely funny. What may be familiar or overly done in this type of story just somehow works so well and delivers on some hilarious and memorable moments throughout, especially with the artist’s ability to make some terrific and funny facial expressions. Niseoki is probably one of the funnier mangas and comics I’ve read all year.
And with that, let us begin…
20. Protectors, Inc. (Image Comics)
Protectors, Inc. is certainly an odd choice to see in any Top Comics List, especially considering some of the books that have come out this year, but it was one surprising comic. It’s set in a world where the only people with superpowers are rich and high class people, who seem to be more into the superheroing for the fame and attention. A disappearance of an international criminal, a murder of a young woman found in a lake, and then the murder of one of the superheroes all play a part in a rather engaging and interesting mystery. The story is very well crafted, with just about every issue playing a part in telling its tale, whether it furthered the story or the characters in some way. Plus, some of the twists and revelations with the heroes really made the experience even better.
What hurts this comic the most is that it’s generally weak in a lot of areas. It’s a very slow burn and it doesn’t feel like things truly get going until the half-way mark, making it rather boring read for some initially. Hell, the plot doesn’t even really get going until the third issue. Also, the artwork for the comic was very much on the bland side and never really looked all that spectacular in the grand scheme of things. Still, it’s a good mystery and a good way to start off this list.
19. Batgirl (DC Comics)
By Batgirl, I mean the Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart run and not the one by Gail Simone. While there is a lot of criticism and frustration expressed by the fans and comic reading public about the recent direction change Batgirl has undergone, I found that it was honestly for the best. Within just three issues, Batgirl has easily become one of the better and more unique titles that DC is putting out. Plus, compared to a lot of DC books being so miserable, dark, gritty, and depressing, the fact that this title is so bright, cheerful, upbeat, and funny is an added bonus.
In this run, Barbara Gordon has moved into a new part of Gotham and is finding herself to become a rather big pop culture icon with the youth of the area. While this could a good thing, someone knows who she really is and is dedicated to ending her. As you may have guessed from that simple description or what you have heard from others, the new run of Batgirl has a lot of pop culture references, hipsterisms, and modernism going on in it with all the talk of trendy things, fads, the media, and more. However, as opposed to The Wicked + The Divine that plays it completely seriously, this new run uses these elements in such an over the top and silly manner that it’s straight up funny to watch and laugh at. It makes the series such a delight to read and laugh at the sheer goofiness of it all.
Along with the fact that every issue is packed full with story, content, characterization, and hilarity, Batgirl is a very thick read. There’s so much to it and it takes such a long time to get through, in comparison to most comics that go by in five or less minutes because of decompression. Not a single page or panel is wasted and that’s just so rare to see in this modern age of comics. Plus, there’s also some terrific and lovely looking artwork by Babs Tarr, unlike most superhero comics you see out, giving it a unique flavor. There are only three issues out currently, which is why it’s so low, but even then, it’s still one of better comics I’ve read this year. I hope for a long and successful future for this creative team.
18. Outcast (Image Comics)
It’s very nice to be pleasantly surprised by something that you didn’t expect much from or you didn’t originally think much of. When Image had their expo back in early January 2014, Outcast was announced and it honestly didn’t sound all that special or great to me. Then it came out later in the year and I decided to review it anyways. The book ended up being a rather nice surprise and that made me happy and want to keep following it.
The story follows Kyle Barnes, a guy with a rather sad and depressing backstory, whose life has been nothing short of a tragedy. Then it turns out that after helping a local reverend with an exorcism, there may have been reason for everything bad in his life and why the people around him went nuts at one point. What makes this book so damn good is that the character work is fantastic and even exceptional when it comes to Kyle. It’s been a while since I’ve read a comic with such a well-developed, sympathetic, and tragic main character who was all of that right out of the gate. I was invested in his story from the end of the first issue and I also grew to enjoy the other characters as well.
What ultimately hurt this comic so badly after such an amazing first outing (I gave the first issue a solid 10) was the fact that it’s a very slow burn type of story and it felt light on scares at points despite being a horror comic. It barely feels like it moves at points or that there’s much development in anything. It really killed a lot of the momentum and it often felt like I was waiting for something to happen rather than being wrapped up in the story. It was a shame honestly, but it doesn’t change how much I like this comic. I hope things pick up next year though, I really do.
17. Swamp Thing (DC Comics)
Swamp Thing as a whole has been a truly amazing and engaging experience under Charles Soule’s watch. This year saw the end of the Seeder arc, time spent with the resurrected Avatars of the Green and conspiracy against Alec Holland, and the start of the final arc with the Machine Kingdom. It has been a roller coaster experience, with its new additions to the Swamp Thing lore, strong characterization and writing, and some of the best looking and most detailed artwork DC Comics has had to offer. It’s hard to really explain what makes a comic like this so great, so all that can be said is that you should really take a look at this one for yourself.
Swamp Thing will sadly be coming to a close this March with a bigger than normal issue. It’s a shame to see that it will be ending, but on the other hand, it’s best for it to bow out instead of losing steam to a couple of weak creative teams like other books have. Will it come back in the future? I don’t doubt it and I’m sure it’ll be just as good if/when it comes back. But until it’s over, let’s sit back and enjoy the ride while it’s here.
16. Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma (Viz Media)
While certainly nowhere as deep or “mature” as a lot of the comics already mentioned and left to be mentioned on this list, Food Wars! was honestly one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises I read all year. It focuses on a young teen entering the ultimate and most elite cooking school in all of Japan and all of the crazy antics and food battles he and his classmates get into. It’s a story that takes itself so seriously at points, but yet goes so far with how insane and crazy the school and all of the people in it are that it is just an absolute delight to read. The over the top nature of serious cooking is taken, the way people react to things, and goofy and strange as hell foodgasms make for quite possibly the funniest manga I’ve read in a while.
But even beyond the goofy and funny nature of the book, the writing and actual cooking elements of the book are surprisingly strong. The characters are all really memorable and make a good impression, even if they only have a few brief appearances or don’t have much depth to them. The educational aspects with teaching the cooking, how the writer describes cooking techniques and the flavor of the food, and so much more really add a lot to bringing this food manga to life. Combined with beautiful and excellent artwork (even if the fanservice can go overboard in areas), Food Wars! is quite easily one of the better mangas to be released this year and I can’t wait to dive into the next volume when it comes out.
15. Batman (DC Comics)
I actually struggled to figure out where Scott Snyder’s Batman would be on this list. It is certainly a good—even great at points—book, but it had some stiff competition this year. However, here at #15 it stands and its position is earned well. This year brought the end of Zero Year and the first half of Endgame, the final big confrontation between Batman and the Joker (or at least it may be if it all doesn’t turn out to be a crazy fever dream), delivering on some epic and highly enjoyable moments and scenes throughout.
It’s hard to discuss and analyze why this book is so good after all the praise from critics and fans alike. It had solid writing, fantastic Batman moments from both him and the supporting characters, great villains and confrontations, neat twists and turns in the narrative (pretty much all of Endgame so far), some rather clever and amusing homages and takes on previous runs, and a great ending to Zero Year. Snyder has taken Batman in an interesting direction, making him more human and vulnerable than most writers have, even when the hero is still prepared beyond all belief (see the fight between him and a Jokerized Superman), and it’s all bolstered by some utterly stunning artwork by Greg Capullo. Greg is easily my favorite Batman artist after all of his work on this run, with some stunning fights and powerful imagery.
What ultimately hurts the book and what keeps Batman at this spot is the fact that it can drag. During the final act of Zero Year, the storyline just dragged and almost fell apart (barely being kept together by the finale). It just went on and on when it could have been wrapped up sooner, killing a lot of momentum. Plus a lot of the monologues tend to be on the annoying side. Still, it’s hard to argue that this Batman run is a bad comic. It has its problems for sure, but it’s definitely one of the better takes on the character in a long time.
14. Chew (Image Comics)
While I really love Chew, 2013 wasn’t its best year. It was rather depressing and down in the dumps for our hero and the characters after the death of Toni. Nothing felt like it was being accomplished nor did the story move that much in areas. However, things changed this year. The status quo was shaken up severely, the plot made great to downright shocking changes, the characters grew and developed in different ways, and it became clear that Chew was back and better than ever.
Seriously, Chew was on fire this year and was back to being one of my favorite comics from Image. From the move to finally have Tony and Amelia marry each other to the gut-punches that were issues #44 & #45, the story truly knew how to suck us all in and not let go. The characters, the art, the sense of humor, and the turns it made were great. Plus, we had two really special fun issues with another Poyo one-shot and the crossover between it and Revival. It’s honestly hard to talk about how great the year was without talking about all of the nasty spoilers that came with it, so it’s best left to you all to discover it for yourself.
13. Sheltered (Image Comics)
Like with Chew, Sheltered had one hell of a year and cemented it easily as one of my favorites. The first volume of the series (basically all of the issues from 2013) were good and interesting, but the series needed a bit more to it. Then comes the second arc and the arrival of the outside world and things went to hell. Then we entered the final arc and somehow, things got even worse for the characters. However for us, the reading audience, it was amazing and utterly shocking at points with where the story went (heck, the past three issues have made me gasp at the end every time).
The story has been great throughout the year, never slowing down once and always keeping you on the edge of your seat. Every new twist and turn that happened was fantastic and felt natural given the circumstances, making you always wonder where things would be headed next. The only negative in the whole comic is that it’s rather weak on the character front. Sure, some of the characters are enjoyable to read and downright delightfully despicable (the kind of villains you love to hate), but not all of them had that much depth to them sadly. Plus, the fast pace of the series made the comic go by very quickly, so you were always done with the comic after five or so minutes.
Sheltered is coming to a close, with only two issues remaining. The way the comic is headed and after everything that has happened, there is no way you can’t be excitedly anticipating the finale and wondering who will be left standing when it’s all over. That anticipation you are feeling when it comes to this series is the mark of a good comic and like all fans, I am eagerly anticipating what awaits the residents and survivors of Safe Haven.
12. Southern Bastards (Image Comics)
I absolutely love Scalped by Jason Aaron. I loved the characters, the mystery, the drama, the setting, the world he built up, and utter gritty feel and nature of it. When Southern Bastards was announced, I was expecting something similar with a strong cast of characters, setting, drama, and thankfully, I was not remotely disappointed by what I got.
The story initially focuses on Earl Tubbs as he returns to his old hometown and finds out about how much has changed. In his time there, he finds himself running into some nasty trouble. It’s an incredible tale, with strong, human characters, gritty drama, and a lot of power to it. Frankly, the ending to the first arc absolutely left me stunned by what had happened and is quite possibly one of the best endings to a story arc from 2014. The next arc, currently going on, switched focus to Coach Boss, the big villain of the first arc, and shows what made him the man he is today. It has so far been equally as strong and rich in character, drama, and grit. Combined with a very tight and well-paced story and artwork that really brings this setting to life, Southern Bastards is easil the best new comic from Image this year.
11. Animal Man (DC Comics)
Now a lot of you may raise an eyebrow at the placement of this particular comic and also may think, “Hey, there were only three issues of this comic out this year! Why is it up here so high when Batgirl, with the same amount of issues, is ranked lower?” There’s a reason for that and it’s quite similar to why this series ranked so high last time. The comic was incredibly strong emotionally, stronger than most books that came out this year.
The series came to a close this year with one final arc and a wrap up issue, bringing a conclusion to the Baker’s Family long and hard journey. The final three issues were incredibly strong from beginning to end, bringing a close to each character’s arc and wrapping up most of the plotlines (there’s still one left that’s lingering in the background) quite well. The emotion, dialogue, and character interactions were incredibly strong and well written here. You really care about everyone and are emotionally wrapped up and invested in them. Then the ending issue, while not all that eventful, ended the series on a great note and was quite the moving look back on how far everyone has come and the hardships they endured. It really made tear up and when it comes to comics, that’s a real hard thing to do.
Animal Man’s main comic is done for now, but he lives and continues on in Justice League United (though sadly he doesn’t get nearly as much attention as you would hope). Looking back on it, Animal Man was and still is one of the best comics to debut out of DC’s New 52, right alongside Swamp Thing and Batman. I hope that one day Jeff Lemire returns to this character and finishes off that remaining plot thread that still looms over the Baker Family, but until then, this is still one of the best comics that DC had all year.
You’ve waited long enough. Move on to the Top Ten Comics of 2014.